Upwardly Mobile

When Souvik says it is just his passion for football that carried him through,it is more than just a cliché.

Written by Siddhartha Sharma | Published: June 17, 2012 12:57 am

Souvik Ghosh,Age 20 Club: Pailan Arrows Position: Stopper

Rs 6 lakh per annum

‘Football is my god,my Durga Puja’

When Souvik says it is just his passion for football that carried him through,it is more than just a cliché. For,he literally had nothing else. His father,who earned a mere 1000 rupees a month,found it difficult to provide him with three square meals a day. Electricity was a luxury that he could not afford in his small house in Howrah,Kolkata. So it was no wonder that the football equipment,when it arrived,had an element of divine intervention to it.

A few years back when Souvik was still only an aspiring footballer,his mother handed him Rs 500,asking him to donate the sum as propitiation on Durga Puja day. “My mother asked me donate the money to God. But I thought,football for me was like god,so it was like Durga Puja. So I spent it in buying shoes instead,” says Souvik.

At each stage,Souvik had to battle overwhelming odds. When he was young,it was the equipment. Later,a balanced diet. Despite lacking something as basic as the fulfillment of dietary requirements,Souvik continued gritting it out. After a series of eye-catching performances in the Kolkata first division league,the defender found himself in the Bengal side for the nationals. At this stage,when even money borrowed from colleagues and neighbours was not proving enough,his parents were close to giving up. It was then that a piece of benevolence helped Souvik make the next step up.

“Our financial condition was poor which meant we had to think twice even about something like food. Souvik was at a stage where he needed a balanced diet and we were in no position to fulfill that. So when a trainer spotted Souvik at the nationals and asked if he could contribute,we agreed. It was a godsend. For four years,Souvik ate food at his place. Had it been on us,I don’t think we could have done anything for our child,” said Deep Kumar Ghosh,Souvik’s 68-year-old father.

Once he got the leg up,Souvik pushed on. His performance at the nationals saw him getting selected to the Indian under-19 squad that traveled to Iraq and close on its heels came the contract with the Pailan Arrows.

This contract is worth Rs 6 lakh a year,and Souvik has since turned provider for his family. After his family was turned out of their ancestral property because they were unable to fight a case in the High Court,Souvik has housed them in a bigger,better place in the same locality. The poster that he put up in his old house may have since peeled off,but Souvik says not a day goes by when he does not think of what he had scrawled on it. “I have to grow as a footballer.”

Milan Singh,Age 20,Club: Pailan Arrows,Position: Forward

Rs 9 lakh per annum

Enter Milan: An inspiration to all

The in-your-face mohawk and an equally discernible predilection for console football games — enough tell-tale signs for you to brand Milan Singh as a spoiled brat. A city slicker intent on living up to his urbane image.

Milan is anything but a punk though. And there is little that is urban about his background. The 20-year-old is instead the man responsible for single-handedly turning around the fortunes of his seven-member family in insurgency-wracked Imphal. Milan only hangs onto a quarter of his earnings. The rest he sends back home. His family now has a stable roof over their heads because of him. Till 2010,when he became a part of the Pailan Arrows outfit,the Singhs were surviving on scraps.

His father Shyam Singh was a seasonal labourer. He worked mainly as a farm-hand but also had to tackle a number of odd-jobs to feed his wife and five sons. Two square meals was on most occasions a luxury. Growing up,Milan and his four younger brothers spent many nights on empty stomachs.

“In our small,partitioned house,seven people had to be fitted in,” recalls Milan.

It was football and their oldest son’s precocious talent that proved to be a silver lining for the family. A four-year old Milan became the talk of the town with his dribbling and ball-control. By the time he turned eight,he was the cynosure of football coaches around Manipur. Even then,the stout striker had realised that the prospect of a better standard of living lay squarely on his shoulders.

But rather than be burdened by such immense responsibility,Milan put in all the hard yards possible to enhance his skills and reputation. Despite his limitations,father Shyam never budged from making sacrifices of his own,and proved to be a solid backbone to his son’s ambitions.

“The sports stadium was a good 8 kms from where we lived,and I had to go for practice both in the morning and evening. My father was working in a furniture store,and every day,he would cycle me there at five in the morning so that he could reach work on time. Then he would return to pick me up,” says Milan. At times,the teenager also had to hitchhike his way back home in Army vehicles.

Coach Manirattan Singh was an able guide,while also providing his young ward with football gear. His first home club,Thougai Athletic Union,too played their part and took care of Milan’s other expenses.

But as he grew older and spent his time tuning his skills at the Tata Football Academy,the load started taking a toll. By now,his father was barely running the house by driving an auto-rickshaw in Imphal.

“I was concerned about them. And eventually it did affect my game. But then I made up my mind and stopped thinking about the pressures of uplifting my family’s fortunes,” he explains.

Salvation finally arrived in the form of a nine-lakh worth contract from East Bengal soon after he graduated from TFA. After a six-month stint with the Kolkata club,Milan then shifted his loyalties to the Arrows outfit.

Milan has not only ensured a more comfortable lifestyle for his folks,he has also inspired one of his brothers to follow in his path. “My brother has just been admitted into TFA this year,” says Milan. “My father is really proud of me now,and at times even refuses to accept the money I send for them.”

Alwin George,Age 20 Club: Pailan Arrows Position: Central Midfielder

Rs 11 lakh per annum

Beauty and the footballing beast

There’s toiling beauty behind the bluster that Alwin George displays during his strutting orchestrations on football’s midfield. Actually,a beauty parlour.

Brought up single-handedly — after his father’s early demise — by his mother who plucked eyebrows and filed manicures to earn bread for the family,Alwin was more relieved than excited when he was signed for Rs 22 lakh over a two-year period by Pailan Arrows,earning one of the highest pay cheques.

He can now finally tell his mum to sit back,put her feet up after years of harrying around a cramped space tending to various vanities.

Popular on the junior circuit for his ability to control the ball deftly in the midfield,the Nagpur boy is perhaps the first footballer from the central-Indian city to have made it to the national side,albeit playing for the U-13 and U-23 teams,after famous sporting names in cricket like CK Nayudu in the 1930s and pacer Umesh Yadav a lot more recently.

The purse is well deserved for the 20-year-old,who the Arrows adjudged their best player this season. Moreover,it will be a welcome reward for Alwin’s mother who endured tough times to sustain her family after she lost her husband. Alwin was barely a year old then,and Christina Adwin George (48) started running a modest beauty parlour to make ends meet.

Alwin’s elder brother played for the Maharashtra colts,and recently the Santosh Trophy as a forward. It was while watching him that Alwin developed interest in the dribble.

His mother managed Rs 15-20 thousand a month when business was plum,but always struggled to put together enough for both children’s playing equipment — shin guards and boots. The burdens of overheads had to be carefully rationed,but she ensured their expenses were eventually met. With grace and no fuss.

“She never made us realise that it was hard for her to shell out money for our kit. But we realised it hadn’t been very rosy when we faced a financial crunch that even affected studies. Otherwise she never had problems with me playing football,” said Alwin,depicting a picture of a very gritty soccer mom,battling grim conditions.

His mother,equally empathises with her son’s struggles. “He was 13 and nursing a hand injury,but his commitment was extraordinary. He’d go to the ground at 4 am on an empty stomach and again in the evening. He once missed selection for a camp in Bhopal and returned crying.”

The story goes that the anxious single parent had gone to the coach and argued on his behalf. Though the selection didn’t come through,his coach had assured her that Alwin was slated for higher things and would soar in his career.

Despite financial woes,she never lost hope and kept motivating her boy,and accompanied him to trials. “She would sacrifice her business and come along. It was a huge motivation not only to play well on that day,but also to make up my mind that I had to play at a higher level to give my family deserving comforts,” Alwin says.

“I’m happy to earn the contract but my main focus is to help my family. I may or may not enjoy myself but this money has supported my mother.”

Tirthankar Sarkar,Age: 19,Club: Pailan Arrows,Position: left Winger

Rs 10 lakh per annum

Just did it: Boy with the tick-marked boots

His father’s Rs 4000 a month salary did not stop a young Tirthankar Sarkar from acquiring a taste for expensive footballing gear early. As a 13-year old,the boy from the streets of football-manic Kolkata got his low-income father,the only earning member of the family back then,to buy him those shoes which had the giant tick mark on them. It was a luxury that the Sarkars couldn’t afford. But for the boy,it was an occupational hazard.

He went on to squeeze the soul out of its sole. The story of Sarkar’s success has many worthy subplots. But it all really began the day he decided to repay his football shoe debt to his family by dedicating his existence to the game.

It didn’t matter that the Sarkars lived in a one-room chawl,Tirthankar would still wear those boots and practice against a ‘wall’ — a bamboo partition in the house. It was with this dedication that the big-boned left-winger rose through the age-group ranks,from India under-13s to 16s to 19s,and now,to 23s. His talent was spotted early by the East Bengal Academy,before being groomed by the Mohun Bagan equivalent from there on. Today,the Rs 10 lakh contract from Pailan Arrows allows him to buy those tick-marked shoes at will,as he shadow practices with them in a three-storey house that he has built for his family.

“It wasn’t always this good,” Tirthankar says with a smile. “In fact,one of the reasons why I left the East Bengal Academy was because they did not provide me with a kit,which meant I had to make my only pair of boots last even longer.” For two years he did,apparently. When the India under-14 side travelled to Iran and then to England for the Manchester Cup,Tirthankar carried the same pair with him.

“It’s amazing how my father found money for my football. He never let me down,” the 19-year old adds. “Also,he ensured that I never slept hungry.” Thanks to the Arrows contract,nobody in the family does.

Tirthankar joined the Kolkata based club in the 2010-11 season. But his debut year was far from memorable,as a recurring hamstring injury kept him away from the football pitch. The past season had been relatively kinder,as he managed a few more appearances.

“For a while,I thought I won’t be able to play again. But God has been kind to me,” he says. “And to my family.”

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